That’s pretty much what my weekend consisted of…jump, pack, repeat. Every time I find myself at Skydive Atlanta I’m turning loads. Thankfully, I usually have a plan when I head in that direction and multiple friends to jump with – by the time I’m packed up after I jump someone’s usually got a jump ticket in their hand for me.
Saturday was spent doing freefly after freefly with my buddy Evan and we were lucky enough to connect with Raymond Adams who it turns out is not only a phenomenal photographer but a pretty great skydiver as well. We walked away with some amazing shots.
Speaking of amazing shots, there was a jump planned for The Chive where two of us are wearing our shirts to submit to the website. Our plan wasn’t fully baked, we knew what we wanted to accomplish, but as of Saturday afternoon hadn’t exactly figured out how to make it work. He’s not much of a freeflyer and I’m not much of a belly flyer and we pretty much had one shot to make it happen. Thankfully, as we were talking it out, Ray came by and was willing to go with us, helped us figure out a plan and got some amazing photos of our exit and of our hybrid flying.
Check him out at the link above. He also does hair and makeup in the ATL area – I’ll be testing out his skills there soon. Ladies, I’ll be sure to report back.
Saturday finished out with the hardest opening I’ve experienced on my Sabre2 yet – feet flung over my head and almost instant headache. I’m still feeling it down my back today. Guess that’s what I get for starting my pack job on a 10 minute call. Thankfully I wasn’t manifested for the sunset load given that a) it was a big-way belly thing and b) it filled up by 3:00 in the afternoon. So instead Mikey and I set out to work getting the beer ready for swoop ‘n chug. Four of us hung out in the swoop lanes, beer in hand to pass off to those competing. There’s a great shot of the first snag of the evening, right out of my hand, it’s coming I swear…
I made a last minute decision to board my dog just in case I decided to jump both Saturday and Sunday – and thankfully I did. We jumped till sunset and everyone went to dinner where a large margarita is essentially a fishbowl of tequila. I had assistance with it, but there was no way this girl was driving anywhere after that. So, drinking more around the bonfire sounded like a fabulous idea. I haven’t stayed out at a dropzone and drank like that (aside from Summerfest) in quite some time. It was nice to be immersed in the community again.
At 7:30am I was regretting the decision to jump on the first load big-way, but given that I haven’t done a belly jump like that in oh, two years or so, I figured it couldn’t hurt to test out my skills. Let’s just say they’re rusty and leave it at that. I need to make it a point to do more of those to get those skills up to par.
I managed to make the next two loads before the winds picked up and my hangover set in. Guys tried to drag me into a cross-country from 12 miles out, but I was in no mood to fight with crappy winds – my wind pussy status lives on. I really have no complaints about my weekend aside from a bit of soreness which only serves to remind me of the amazing time that was had in the sky with my friends.
p.s. Random after thought…I didn’t set out to write a post purely about my weekend, but then again I haven’t had many photos/videos to share lately so I thought y’all might enjoy seeing me jump for a change. I’ll be back to random ramblings later this week.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to judge others lately and I thought I’d share some of my conclusions. Growing up in small town USA you’re almost brought up to judge the behaviors of others. Typically, we all grow up in similar families where anything that seems “out of the ordinary” is securely locked behind closed doors.
Of course, that was in the 80s.
Fast forward to the 21st century where most of us consume our news online, and even worse, via Facebook, and you can imagine how many skeletons that would have remained in closets are so easily creeping out through the interwebs.
We are all sharers to some degree. We love people to know the positive things that are going on in our lives. Of course, the more you share of yourself, the more challenging it becomes to keep those parts of your life that may not be working out the way you’d prefer, in the dark.
That said – as I know many of you are thinking – everyone has the choice of what they want to share and what they don’t. And yes, I’m in complete agreement with that sentiment. However, if you’ve been putting yourself out there (or, if you have some type of celebrity or athlete status, it’s more likely that others are contributing to putting you out there as well) it can be difficult to shield yourself from public judgment of others.
A great example of this is the recent leak on what goes on in the Olympic Village and the backlash that a lot of athletes are now enduring because of their after-hours activities. Yes, these athletes are best-in-class and should act as such, however, as far as they were concerned, these activities were supposedly taking place in a safe space – where they could unwind. Not all the Olympians are taking part in drunken debauchery as some articles have quoted, but some are. Not all are having sex with every other athlete they find attractive, but some are. Truth is, who are we to judge?
I do agree with some who are saying that these members of society should be the most upstanding that exist – there are kids that look up to them, see them as role models, and for as long as the Olympics has existed, it’s been a badge of honor simply to participate. But does unwinding with some booze and sex in an area that was promised to be a safe haven automatically make them bad people? Maybe that pedestal we put them on was a bit too high, sure, but isn’t that more a product of our starry eyes and our naitivity than their personal actions?
This is, of course, just one example.
Judging others is just something that happens. We all do it. I don’t care who you are and what high horse you think you’re perched on, you do it too. I used to do it ALL. THE. TIME. In fact, it was part of my life that I enjoyed. But, as life throws more experiences at me, I find that when I’m peeking into the lives of others, judgment isn’t something I enjoy. In fact, I find myself thinking things like “dude, 10 years ago I would have thought you were [fill in the blank here depending on the situation],” rather than actually placing judgment in the present. A habit I hope to break, because honestly, it’s still only one notch below actually judging someone’s character.
Judging others based on their choices and actions seems easy to do when you have little life experience of your own. The truth is, cliche as it seems, until you walk even a block in someone else’s shoes you just don’t have the authority to judge their actions. You never know what someone else is going through – I don’t care what rumors you’ve heard, what you’ve seen on Facebook or what you’ve even heard from their friends and family, you are not them, you have not shared their experiences, so you can’t judge their decisions because you just don’t understand.
That said, this doesn’t mean you should walk around in life not passing judgment on others at all. Judgment also helps us determine who we should surround ourselves with on a daily basis. The ability to judge others lets us know when someone doesn’t “feel” right, and choose safe, harmonious communities. Without the ability and decision to judge someone you just might be unknowingly shacking up with a serial killer or an abuser or someone who picks their nose and eats it.
Our wonderful human brain allows us to use this judgment to protect ourselves and those that we love. It’s a trait that continues on in the gene pool because it’s so valuable to the survival of our communities.
What it comes down to, as with most things in life, is self-control. Being the intelligent beings that we are, we’ve realized that we can use this judgment in ways that will unnecessarily alienate others, make them feel bad about themselves, or simply provide fodder for discussions with other members of society (read: “did you see what Jane was doing last night at the bar? She’s such a slut/idiot/drunken whore.”).
When judgment turns into gossip turns into name calling, that’s when it’s time to do some self reflecting and reel it in. Does talking bad about someone else’s decisions make you better than them? Does it make you feel good about yourself to speak badly of another person? What are your motivations when it comes to spreading rumors and talking about someone else?
These are good questions to ask yourself before, during, or even after you’ve judged someone else.
Doesn’t it make more sense to understand before making accusations? Exploring a situation with questions, asking individuals rather than groups, approaching the person himself to find out more information is a great place to start. It might not hurt to ask yourself why you’re exploring for more information in the first place. Do you genuinely care and want to help or are you simply searching for ways to make yourself feel superior to someone else?
Judgement can be a wonderful thing. We were blessed with this ability, but use it wisely my friends, because in the end, prematurely passing judgment doesn’t make the other person look nearly as petty as it makes you look.
Love and blue skies!
Skydiving, like any specialized activity with a tight community of passionate individuals, has a very distinct culture. Part of that culture is a specific language that comes along with it. No, I’m not just referring to cultural ideals such as using Fuck as often as possible in conversation – it’s deeper than that. The sport of skydiving should come with it’s own glossary – oh wait, it does - but this list seemed to be lacking a bit in terms that I find myself using in talking about skydiving with whuffos because they just don’t understand our language.
And if that last sentence has you going “huh?” then you should definitely read on.
- Canopy – this is what skydivers say when they are talking about their parachute. We rarely say parachute or ‘chute as some hip whuffos like to say. Stick to canopy, it’ll make you sound legit.
- Rig – the harness system that carries both of your parachutes in a pretty backpack type system. Your rig is your lifeline in the sport!
- DZ – the acronym for dropzone. Dropzone is the area in which skydivers land. It’s also where we hang out. Our community is based around dropzones throughout the world.
- Dump – a term used for deploying your main parachute. Example: “where are you dumping?” translates to “at what altitude are you going to pull (deploy your parachute).”
- Chop – slang for cut away. (Read: releasing your main canopy and risers when it malfunctions so you can deploy your reserve canopy)
- Flare – a parachutists version of hitting the brakes where we pull our toggles (read: stearing lines) down to give our canopy lift moments before touching the ground. Makes for a softer landing.
- PLF – the acronym for Parachute Landing Fall. These came in handy during the days of round parachutes, but can help save your ankles if a landing isn’t as soft as planned.
- Cypress – though this is a brand name (think how we use Kleenex when referring to any brand of tissues), it’s often used to refer to any automatic activation device that will deploy your reserve if you hit a certain altitude and don’t have anything over your head.
- Skygod – at first this may seem like a compliment but ,it’s not. Skygod, though it sounds like it should refer to someone who is an amazing skydiver, actually refers to someone who thinks they are an amazing skydiver. How do you know they think that? If they’re a Skygod, they’ve told you.
- Load – a plane full of skydivers. “Which load are you on?” is a question often heard at the dropzone. Load 1 is the first group of jumpers for the day.
- Turning loads – when the airplane comes down from dropping jumpers and picks up another load without shutting down. Often simply referred to as turning.
- Boogie – a skydiving event. Often there are novelty aircraft, organized loads, giveaways, t-shirts, etc. It’s a great reason to celebrate what we do and have a big party!
- Dytter – another brand name that’s often used generically to describe an audible altimeter. Often placed on inside helmet pockets so jumpers have an audible indicator of their altitudes.
- Swooping – a discipline in skydiving where jumpers use precise calculations to do low turns under often small, high performance canopies to land at high speeds. It’s very visual and spectators love it. See video here for a visual description.
- Burble – the dead air directly above a skydiver in freefall. Catch someone’s burble and you’ll experience significant turbulence in your flight. You’re also likely to crash into ‘em.
- Snivel – when you dump, your canopy doesn’t just, BAM, open (unless you’re flying a Sabre 1). The snivel is that flowering opening that helps your canopy open nice and smooth. This is an extreme example, as most snivels last only a handful of seconds, but this will show you what a snivel looks like.
- Whuffo – the term skydivers use for people who have never made a skydive.
- Spot – the exit location of skydivers from the aircraft. If the spot is off, jumpers will likely land off the dropzone, which isn’t ideal.
- Mal – that’s what most skydivers would have assumed the video above was and chopped! Mal is short for malfunction. Sometimes a malfunction is correctable, like line twists, but sometimes it’s not and you have to get rid of it and deploy your reserve. Or sometimes, in rare occasions, you might have a total mal where your main doesn’t deploy, so you go straight to your reserve. All things we are trained and prepared to deal with as they happen.
- BSBD – the acronym for Blue Skies Black Death. The skydiver version of RIP and a reminder to us all that we should live our days playing it up in the blue skies but always knowing that, if we’re not safe and careful, the Earth below us can kill us.
I’m sure my list isn’t complete, so be sure to check out the glossary of skydiving terms on Dropzone.com (see the link I posted above), or feel free to add other words in the comments that you find yourself using on a regular basis that clearly belong in the world of skydiving.
Last night at my bocce ball league – yes, I know, it’s not nearly as adrenaline pumping as hucking yourself from a plane at 14K, but girls gotta do somethin’ while on this injury time out – I participated in a debate on safety, skydiving vs. bungee jumping.
As it usually does when meeting new people, the topic of skydiving came up. You know, when people ask you where you hang out on the weekends, it’s kinda hard to avoid the truth without sounding totally lame. Anyway, a couple of the guys in the group had been skydiving fairly recently, one did a tandem in New Zealand. He also mentioned that he went bungee jumping there and, as I typically do when the subject comes up, I visibly cringed. And, as usual, most people were taken aback by my reaction.
“Wait, you’ll skydive hundreds of times but you’ll never bungee jump?”
Yes friends, this is correct. My argument is always the same – I have two parachutes on my back, one of which is packed by a skilled, licensed professional. When bungee jumping, your life is in the hands of a rubber band (now before everyone goes jumping down my throat here, I know this isn’t exactly factual, but people get the point), I prefer my odds.
Last night’s debate included a new point of view that I’d never heard before: many more non-professionals bungee jump than skydive. So, in other words, you can be an average joe and jump off a bridge alone, but to skydive you need more skills. Not sure how that alludes to the bungee being a safer sport, but it was an interesting POV. Of course, my retort was that with so many more skydivers out there having official training and licenses, safety is a big focus in the sport.
In the end, the majority who joined the conversation took the side of skydiving ultimately being the safer option (of course, this is all without actual stats, so for any who want to prove me wrong with numbers or whatever, go ahead). And, I think I convinced a few people who were on the fence about trying it to get out there and give it a shot.
How many of you have participated in this debate before? How many skydivers out there are sticking to the never bungee jumping rule like I am?
Recently I heard a rumor. Apparently some folks from a dropzone where I used to be regular have taken up talking about others as a favorite past time. Whatever, we all do it. In that, it was stated that a close friend of mine padded their log book.
I’m not sure where the conversation went from there, as I didn’t inquire further because frankly, I don’t really care what people have to say (behind my or my friends backs) unless they’re saying it to my face. Not only that, but the concept is laughable, given that this friend had zero reason to do so (what, with not wanting to get ratings and having started flying camera before 200 jumps anyway…), but it did get me to thinking about the concept of inflating jump numbers.
Skydivers do this for a number of reasons – to speed up the process of getting their ratings (for some you need 100, others 500) or so they can fly a wingsuit or strap a camera to their helmet to catch all the action, both of which the USPA BSRs call for 200 jumps, and is now widely enforced at most dropzones.
That said, what’s it to you if someone does pad their logbook? I mean, say the guy in the plane next to you has 450 skydives, but says he has 500 so he can work toward his Pro rating. Is it that you feel he’s unsafe? Well, if he’s unsafe at 450 jumps then you probably shouldn’t be jumping with him anyway, right? So it’s totally your choice if you want to share the sky with this guy.
And the truth is, you’d be surprised how many people do this. Whether it’s 10 jumps or 100, it happens quite frequently. And so what, they’re only cheating themselves.
It never ceases to amaze me how people – not just in the skydiving world, but in general – can so quickly make someone else’s problem their own. If some dumb newbie wants to “go out of town” and suddenly comes back with 100 jumps to get his coach rating, he’s the one who will have to pay the price, literally, when he doesn’t pass his coach course because he’s not experienced enough.
I’m sure it’s not why you came here this Friday morning, but here’s a little advice for you: focus on yourself, your own skills and your own safety, rather than the numbers in the log books of your fellow jumpers. Worry about yourself and those closest to you, and let everyone else make their own mistakes. Trust me, you’ll be happier in the end.
So I’ve been asked to write about what I wish I knew when I got my A-license – “transition from student to fun jumper” as it was so eloquently put. Honestly, that’s a big task because I still see myself as a student. I’m by no means proficient in any area of skydiving and dabbling in disciplines, though fun, does have a way of keeping progression in freeflying, belly flying, wingsuiting, etc at a bit of a slower pace.
On top of that, every skydive is a learning experience, so I’m a true believer in each and every jumper always being a “student” in the sport. Of course, I do understand the request, and I did a bit of polling of other skydivers so I can provide a heartier post than just spewing learnings from my own experiences.
Let’s start with the obvious:
Never stop thirsting for knowledge: If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you need to crave the learning experience. Skydiving is, at times, very fucking humbling. But, if you’re open to it, you can really learn something about yourself in the process. It’s not all about figuring out how to stick a sitfly and dock with your fellow jumpers – it’s deeper than that – having an open mind will allow you to take all that in.
Not only that, the thirst for knowledge helps keep things exciting and novel. Sure, I may not be the best belly flyer at 300 skydives, and by now I probably should have my head down dialed in, but I’ve enjoyed the learning experience that comes along with new disciplines. I like perfecting my canopy skills, I love jumping in a wingsuit for a fun flock, keeping things fresh helps me stay in that wide-eyed, giddy phase that most jumpers are in just off student status.
Be flexible: This one is two-fold. Physically, I can’t recommend enough that you stretch, do yoga, pilates, whatever you have to in order to stay flexible. Flexibility allows you more opportunity to manipulate the air in different ways – it gives you more options. And, it really does help you understand your own body a bit more.
Mental flexibility on the other hand, can be a bit of a challenge at times. A commitment to progress in the sport is important, but don’t be too rigid with yourself on what that progress looks like. For example, if you want to focus on your belly flying skills, that’s great. But don’t tell yourself you absolutely won’t freefly till you have X amount of jumps, because you never know when you might turn away a chance to jump with one of the best because of your rigidity. Ebb and flow with the opportunities that come your way – even goals have a way of finding that flexible balance. Go with it.
Ask more questions: This is a great one from one of my fellow jumpers who is also a coach. Sometimes students are too timid to ask questions, but this is your chance. People expect it. When you’re on the ground, talk as much as you can to experienced jumpers. Blurt out any question that comes to your mind to your instructors and coaches. Get answers now. There’s no stupid question when you’re a student. But, when you have 100 jumps and you’re just now finding the courage to ask about basic canopy flight mechanics, you might get laughed off the dropzone, or worse, people will refuse to jump with you because they think you’re uneducated and not safe. Plus, knowing all you can as a student only preps you for being as safe a jumper as you can be once you earn that A.
Read, Watch, Admire: Dropzone.com, Blue Skies Magazine, Parachutist, blogs, YouTube videos – the list goes one. Soak up as much knowledge on your own as possible. Take opinions with a grain of salt, but listen to them regardless. This is how you’ll build on your own skills. Find time to read Brian Germain’s book, sign up for a canopy course stat, flip through the SIM if you’re bored one rainy afternoon. The more you can surround yourself with skydiving, the more knowledge you’ll have.
Ask for advice: Norman Kent in town and you’ve got a burning question – ask him. Been admiring Taya’s flocking skills from afar and run into her at a boogie – stop and say hi around the bonfire. Everyone is approachable (usually) as we’ve all been students at one point or another. Advice can come in all forms, but you’ll never get it if you don’t reach out and talk to those who inspire you.
Those are my top 5 at this point – that’s enough out of me. Any other advice from all you fun jumpers out there?
No, that’s not a typo, the title of this post is “quite the mouth” as in, “he’s got quite the mouth on him.” Not quiet the mouth, as in “quiet that mouth of yours before I do it for you,” but the latter does tend to apply at times.
As skydivers, we live in this community where people love to talk about themselves. The seasoned jumpers love to talk about their latest badass swoops or the world record they were a part of. Intermediate jumpers can’t wait to tell everyone about their first head down they [think they] stuck or the new friendship they’ve sparked with this or that load organizer. Even recently licensed jumpers can’t wait for fresh student meat to come in to force feed their own personal AFF stories.
It goes without saying (but, I’m going to say it anyhow) that sometimes it can be pretty irritating to hear other jumpers talk incessantly about how great they [think they] are.
But the truth of the matter is, sometimes, this is where we can learn the most as skydivers. How many of you out there – show of hands – were told at one time or another during your student training that often times you’re on the ground more than you’d like to be, and the best way to continue your education is to listen to what the other skydivers are talking about?
My hand is up on that one.
Especially here in the North where weather plays more of a factor than, say, in SoCal, it’s not uncommon for students to sit around picking their nose waiting for winds to cooperate. But while you’re fishing for that gewy one behind your eyeball, talk to some of the others on the ground (or, remove said finger from your nostril, wash your hands and approach the nearest seasoned skydiver for a chat).
Seek out those with ratings (instructors, S&TAs and the like) to give solid safety advice. Talk to those who are both seasoned (we’re talking 500, 1000+ jumps here kids) to hear their stories from years in the sport. But, let’s not forget the newbies in the sport either. After all, they (we) recently went through student progression and can tell you a thing or two about that weird, awkward period after getting your A license. The “now what the fuck?” phase, as I like to call it.
Of course, this doesn’t just go for what USPA considers “students.” Just because we have our A (or B or C or even D) licenses, doesn’t mean the learning stops. As I see it, we should be learning MORE. We’re [ideally] jumping more, traveling to new places, meeting new jumpers … shouldn’t we be getting educated along the way as well? Learning from each and every person we encounter (even if what we’re learning is how not to do something)?
It’s important to be able to adapt to new surroundings, to understand about the aircraft you’re hucking yourself from, to know DZ landing patterns, to know how to get out of an icky situation in a pinch. All this comes with experience, sure, but you can learn so much from those “annoying” mouths out there that, at first, might seem to be rather obsessed with themselves.
Learning to filter out the bullshit is an important skill in the skydiving industry – but that doesn’t mean you should stop listening altogether. So on those days where your local skygod is like fingernails on a chalkboard, maybe you should stop and ask yourself if maybe you should quiet your mouth and listen.
There’s a running joke in the skydiving community that drama at the dropzone can run so rampant at times that it’s like a soap opera of it’s own.
“As the Prop Turns” if you will.
Of course, it’s often not so much a joke as the truth. Dropzone politics can not only be stuffy at times, but downright uncomfortable for students and experienced jumpers alike. Though don’t get me wrong, the adrenaline packed sport is not alone in it’s occasional interpersonal tussles. Skydiving is just like any other niche activity in life, it comes with a community and communities come with aspects of drama and politics. I dare you to show me one that doesn’t (and if there’s one out there, can I join? hehe).
But see here’s the thing, whether you’re a skydiver or a skier or a member of a book club, it’s entirely possible to enjoy what your community has to offer – not to mention the activity itself that you’re so passionate about to begin with – without getting sucked into uncomfortable situations and unnecessary drama.
How, you ask?
Decide not to get involved. It’s that simple. Make a decision to spend your time and the dropzone doing what you love, skydiving with your friends, or solo, or whatever it is you fancy most, have a few drinks around the bon fire and go home at the end of the weekend with a smile on your face. In other words, make it a point to enjoy the activity in and of itself. You can even go so far as to make it a point to completely avoid the overdramatic people, and for the love of all things holy, don’t let the naysayers affect how you feel about yourself. Sure, it might not be the easiest task at hand, but if it’s something you really want, make it happen! Believe it or not, you have control over your own happiness at the dropzone.
Of course, if you’re involved in the sport on a deeper level than simple fun jumper, there are additional challenges as you’re likely employed within the community – and for anyone who has had a job, ever, you likely know that politics are virtually unavoidable – but the insanity doesn’t have to outweigh passion; not by any stretch.
Just as skydiving is like any other aspect of life, your attitude can be adjusted just as it would in these other areas of life. You are the only one who has control over your own thoughts, emotions and actions, so if you truly don’t want to get involved in the crazy drama that can exist from time to time (on or off the dropzone), and if you’d prefer not to be a part in “As the Prop Turns” then concsiously make the decision not to – you’re the only one who can decide that for yourself.
Just like we don’t sit by passively in a skydive and let gravity takes us down, we shouldn’t sit by idly on the ground and let the politics, drama or other interpersonal issues that tend to exists (as I mentioned, in any community) drag our morale down either.
Stay positive. Stay passionate. Stay alive.
Love and Blue Skies!
Whether it’s on or off the dropzone, the key is to make yourself happy (if you find the secret formula for this, please share it with the rest of us). When you’re happy with yourself, you might be surprised how much you don’t give a crap what others think or say. But of course, you don’t have to take my word for it, just give it a try for yourself and see! Keep on keepin’ on guys and gals. Y’all rock!
SDC: Alright Ms. Melanie, let’s start with the basics – when did you start skydiving and what’s your “story” on getting into this sport?
MC: My Dad actually owned a small drop zone in upstate New York for many years called The Verona Skydiving Center. I was lucky enough to be exposed to skydiving at a young age, could have done it when I was 16, but was scared, wasn’t ready.. when I was 18, something in my flipped and I was ready. Told my Dad I was going to do it the next day, I did, and so it happened that the entirety of my adult life was spent fully immersed in my love of this sport and community.
SDC: For those of us who have jumped with you, we all know that you do a little bit of everything, even swooping. So tell us, what is your favorite discipline?
MC: Currently, my favorite discipline is 4-way VFS, because it’s still quite a bit of a challenge for me, I don’t feel that good at it yet, and with the bigger gap open for improvement, so is the opening for feeling awesome when you rock it. Outside of that though, pretty much my only personal goal in skydiving now is to only surround myself with awesome, hilarious people I love. Seriously. I’m not kidding. That’s for team stuff– awesome, hilarious, teammates I love, only. Professionally, I love going to/working at/organizing major events– I love that I get to meet and jump with a million new people, ever expanding the connection with awesome hilarious people I love. Hahaa, but seriously! I’m so so so all about that. On top of the obvious fun of travel, experiencing the country/world, and enjoying the skies and views from so many beautiful places. Man, I’m grateful.
SDC: Is there anything you haven’t tried yet that you really want to (like, have you wingsuited or BASE jumped)?
MC: I have tried wingsuiting, did about 20 jumps, had a hard pull and a reserve ride, and then hung it up for good. I tried it because of the awesome organizers (Taya Weiss, Jeff Nebelkopf, Phil Peggs, etc) of the Wingsuit Records held at Elsinore.. but yeah, I don’t like having my limbs restricted like that, and honestly, overall, am a very risk-averse skydiver. As for BASE, I have no desire. Zip, zilch, nada. The videos totally turn my stomach. I get no enjoyment out of increased risk– I like to calculate my risk to a point of feeling as safe as one can feel inside the skydiving environment. I love my life, so I make choices to protect it, and for me, that boxes out certain things. Totally appreciate that others love it, that it’s incredible in it’s own right, and that maybe down that line I’ll change my mind.. yeah, all good.. as of now though, I’m happy pushing myself in the competitive arena, and in coaching, very simply, helping people have more fun.
SDC: Aside from Elsinore and the Chick’s Rock boogie (cuz we all know that’s the best one around), what are some of your favorite dropzones and Boogies?
MC: CarolinaFest is amazing!! James LaBarrie and DZO’s Danny and Annette Smith put on a fantastic show, awesome people, great night life, fun extras, awesome organizers (hehee), extra aircraft, all the vendors, Rodriguez Brothers initiations, any discipline of skydiving covered.. everything. Even though it’s a co-ed event, we’ve started calling it the Chicks Rock of the East.. cause the vibe is just so awesome, welcoming, loving, and fun. Hell yes. Other than that, in 2010, the Pimp My Fly Boogie in Hanko, Finland was INCREDIBLE!! What an amazing nearly week-long event these girls put on to inspire the lady freefliers of Finland. SO grateful to be a part of that one, and can’t wait for 2011!!
SDC: We just missed that event last year, having spent a long weekend in South Carolina only a couple weeks prior. But you’re so right about everyone there – definitely a place we plan to visit again soon…maybe for the boogie!
Any place/event you really want to attend but haven’t yet?
MC: I’ve never been to Empuriabrava.. not sure what’s there really, I guess the draw of the exotic foreign location is appealing to me…. taps into that bug of wanting to see the world. I guess Dubai is on the list now too!
SDC: Who were some of your mentors as you grew into the sport? Who do you look up to now?
MC: Lou Ascione was one of my earliest teammates, and has basically taught me everything I know about belly flying, 4-way, and teaching/coaching. He is a phenomenal teacher and teammate, totally fucking hilarious and awesome person all around. I definitely credit him for turning me into a great coach, teaching me how to teach mostly by just leading by that example. In freeflying, Amy Chmelecki has always been just the pinnacle of freefly badassness to me.. because she is!!! She is amazing, and now that we’re actually friends, I swear, still, and this is no joke, I sometimes have that thought of, “Seriously, I’m friends with Amy Chmelecki??” She’s even better than what you’re thinking, everyone. Trust me on this one.
SDC: You know, Mel, there are probably more people out there that think that way about you than you know…just sayin’. There are a lot of little skydiving chicklets (like, ehem, me) who look up to you, cuz you know, you’re badass and all. Tell us a little bit about how you got to where you are now. The road to Melsinore if you will.
MC: Hahaha, the road to Melsinore.. that’s funny.. well, I actually believe that my story is a perfect example of what happens when you choose to follow your gut, and take the leaps of faith to do what your heart really pulls you to do. I was completely and totally in love with skydiving and my involvement in it. Any opportunity I had come my way, I directed it to align with my skydiving goals… went to Australia in college cause it had weather for skydiving… moved to LA from New York to be in a more skydiving-friendly environment now that I was making adult money… drive to the DZ every single weekend for 3 years working full-time at an investment bank, spending too much of that office time working on skydiving skills camps and team building and voracious reading, etc…….. That kind of dedication, persistence, stamina, seems to me like it can only be fueled by love. I stuck with it, I stuck with it, I stuck with it. Literally nothing could stop me. I saw no obstacles to my doing this. It was just a fact. I was doing this. I spent all my money on skydiving, it wasn’t even a question. Truthfully, only after the fact was I able to see it as the “investment in my future” it actually was. Because at age 27, I was able to quit my job in corporate America, start full-time at Skydive Elsinore, and the rest is history.
SDC: Personally, I love how involved you are in this community – it’s more than a job to you, it’s a lifestyle. What is it that draws you into the skydiving community?
MC: It’s absolutely a lifestyle. I am happy to say that I am finally getting some balance in my life now from that feeling of over-saturation, having just left Elsinore full-time, going free-agent in my professional skydiving, pursuing life coaching more, and actually taking steps and making time for a for-real personal life! hahaa Skydiving is a huge family that cradles each of us in like-minded community.. where everyone is welcome, regardless of their age, skin color, or skill level. I LOVE that. Skydivers are a unique breed of people, so even in my seeking balance now, I still, and always will be, involved in our community and family… going to events, coaching people with heart, cheering on my man on Airspeed, etc. Skydiving will always be a part of who I am, and I will always be grateful for and take comfort in that.
SDC: You seem to be very pro-chick, it’s heartwarming, especially in a sport that’s pretty male dominated. Tell us a little about how the Chick’s Rock boogie evolved?
MC: Funny you say that, cause truthfully, I wouldn’t call myself pro-chick.. I’m pro-people. Chicks Rock Boogie was actually started two years before I got to Elsinore, and when I took the job working there full-time, that event was on the list of things I was in charge of. Because I’m so pro-positive vibes, I was so all about Chicks Rock because it always seemed like that event was just the awesomest vibes in skydiving! Totally grew on that, and went with the hook of it being a chick-themed thing, and I was a chick.. it worked out. I actually have always been one of those skydivers that does not support the women’s division in competition since this is a sport where we CAN compete at the highest level with men, and do. Eliana Rodriguez, Natasha Montgomery, Amy Chmelecki, just to name a few. So yeah, the whole chick thing actually annoyed me for a number of years. Then, in 2007, my teammate Meili Modini pestered and convinced me to attend the Women’s Vertical World Record. Because I was anti-segregation, I honestly wouldn’t have gone had it not been for Meili’s enthusiasm. Anyway, this experience ended up being one of the best skydiving experiences I had had to date in my entire career. There was no vibe of we’re-not-as-good-as-the-guys at all, in fact, it felt like a big version of my favorite thing in skydiving– a team. We all worked together, got the record, and for the first time I really GOT how inspiring it all is for all the women in the sport to have that type of experience to look forward to, that type of experience to motivate them, to include them, to lift them up in our male-dominated sport. Ever since then, I’ve been totally all about it. I get it. Finally! hahaa, and so glad that I can be a part of inspiring our latest surge in female participation… the latest record we just did was 41-women!!!! And there were nearly 60 of us in total between the record and the support team. That is truly incredible. So many lovely ladies found inspiration in this totally amazing possibility for us all, and you know what, we came together, and we fuckin did it. I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of it. LOVE YOU, LADIES!!!!!! (insert lots of smiles here)
SDC: So you recently made a pretty cool life decision when it comes to your work, want to fill everyone in on that, let people know how they can get some stellar life coaching?
MC: www.melaniecurtis.com!! Thanks for the plug, Ashley! hahaa.. yes, I actually just got 3 new clients this week, no joke!! Basically check out my website, and any questions or to set up a Sample Session, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SDC: Any advice you’d like to give to the up and comers out there? Something you wish you’d known as a newbie skydiver?
MC: Jump, a lot.. be current… get coaching from someone good.. it’s soooooooooooooooooo worth it to get good coaching, guidance, and good habits from someone awesome straight out the gates. Undoing bad habits costs more in the end, and doing it up front saves us the frustration of sucking, makes us better sooner, and when we’re better, we have more fun. Just how it works. Same with life coaching! Wheee!
p.s. Mel practically vomited smiles all over this post, but my darn template is all wacky with emotocons these days, so be sure to reread the interview picturing her with this massive smile plastered on her face – as always!
Even though it’s been a few weeks since I’ve been in the air, skydiving continues to teach me a thing or two.
I’m one of those people who will watch videos and read articles on skydiving (and any other adrenaline sport for that matter) any chance I get. I’m also the girl who waits not-so-patiently by the mailbox for the latest issue of Blue Skies Magazine and Parachutist every month. What can I say, I’m an adrenaline and words junkie.
I also do my best to keep in contact (though not as close or as often as I’d prefer) with those members of the community who made an impact on my life. These are the people who continue to show me the skills – both in the sky and on the ground – that it takes to be the skydiver I want to be.
What I have noticed is that, even though I’m not getting into the air as regularly as I’d like, skydiving continues to teach me about the person that I want to be – and honestly, about the person I don’t want to be.
This sport filled a huge hole in my life that I didn’t know existed until that first jump. It showed me what it means to be passionate about something. More than that, it showed me what it means to be passionate about life – all aspects of life. In the last year and a half I’ve gone from excited student to obsessed newbie to balls to the wall traveler to happy, content me. There was a point where I looked at what I was doing in skydiving and said, “you know, I love this sport, but I’m not willing to sacrifice who I am to be this badass freeflyer” or whatever it was I was going for. Surprisingly, skydiving has shown me how to appreciate all the non-skydiving things in my life a little more than I ever did.
Believe it or not, skydiving has also had this way of humbling me a bit.
I know it sounds bizarre, given that most skydivers you meet are more than happy to talk only about how great they are and they’ll show you their videos for hours even when you clearly don’t care. I’ll be the first to admit I had this same mentality at one point as well, but when you step back and notice these people you call your friends and dz family, and all you hear is them rambling on and on about themselves and criticizing others, it doesn’t paint the prettiest picture of our community – the one we’ve grown to cherish so much.
This is something I didn’t fully realize until I visited dropzones and attended events where the atmosphere was different, where the people I was interacting with were some of the badassest around, but you’d never know it from talking with them.
These are the people that truly make an impact on our sport. It’s not the skygods, or the people who are obsessed with the videos of themselves and their friends in the sky. It’s the people who make each moment and jump special for the people around them. The only way to describe it is a generous spirit. These are people that don’t have to try to be the people they are, they’re not going out of their way to help others or to be extra nice and welcoming, they just are – it’s their nature. You can’t help soaking in some of that positive energy just by being around people like this.
And of course, this goes beyond skydiving, but it’s at the dropzone where ideas like this have solidified themselves in my brain. One more lesson learned from skydiving. How has skydiving taught you about the type of person you want to be?
Love and blue skies!